Thursday, December 30, 2010

"You Can't Always Get What You Want"?

I love the rolling stones, especially "You Can't Always Get What You Want."  I love the melancholy groove that leads into the upbeat "you-get-what-you-need" chorus. One of the things I've always liked is that the message of the song teaches that life isn't always roses and bubble gum but that it's ok anyway. It is the anthem of contentment.  However, lately I've been questioning that belief.

I've always had a problem with "health and wealth" Christianity. These are the Christians that only talk about God's blessings in the form of nice cars and fancy watches while they ignore biblical passages like "blessed are you when men revile you" (Matthew 5:11-12) or "count it all joy when you endure various trials and tribulations" (James 1:2-3). Sometimes they accuse you of not having enough faith if you lose your job or get sick. (Confession: I have thought about punching these guys in the face and blaming them for not having enough faith that I wouldn't punch them.) I've often wondered what these guys would say to the people of God being tortured for Christ in Saudi Arabia or losing their human rights in China.

I still can't get on board with the overemphasis on blessing, but I have had to reevaluate my thinking lately. The truth is I'm really blessed. I have great friends and a great family, not to mention my warm house, comfortable clothes and reliable cars. Here is where it gets really crazy: I have been blessed to receive things I don't need but really wanted.  I remember wanting a drum set from the time I was old enough to remember.  I prayed and saved and practiced my rhythms on buckets and cans for years.  The desire never went away, and God eventually blessed me with a drum set.  

All this got me thinking about Psalm 37:4 when it says "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."  I think a lot of health and wealth pastors have used this verse to infer that God is a cosmic vending machine.  "Show up with your desire, put in your tithe and get what you want."  A friend of mine who worked in a Christian bookstore during "The Prayer of Jabez" craze said a customer once told him that if you pray the Prayer of Jabez a certain number of times daily, you can get whatever you want.  This still bothers me. I don't like treating God like a sugar daddy.  Isn't He more important than all this stuff?  Isn't it ridiculous to have all this stuff when people are starving in other parts of the world? 

So, what's the difference?  How can I scorn blessing oriented theology when I have and enjoy God's blessings every day?  

I think the answer is in the order of the verse.  The psalmist never says "You will get the desires of your heart, if you do the Christian thing."  He says to delight in God.  Everything else is frosting.  This is where we miss it so many times.  God never meant for us to show up to church looking for a feeling.  He never wanted us to enter into relationship with Him for new cars and financial stability.  He just wants us to love Him.  It's that simple.  

My wife bought me a great Christmas present this year, something I have wanted but never thought we could or should afford.  She went to great lengths to pull extended family together to chip in, because she loves me and wanted to bless me.  She does something special like this every year.  One year it was a mandolin, another year it was a Marshall Amplifier.  She is amazing.  But, when I married her, I wasn't thinking about amps, drums and clothes.  I married her because I'm crazy in love with her.  If every gift she gave me burned tonight, I would wake up tomorrow thrilled that she was with me.  I delight in my wife.  The gifts only serve to remind me how much she loves me.

It gets better.  The more I know and love my wife, the more I want things that help me bless her.  I have grown to desire gifts that benefit our home.  I got pretty excited about a Rigid wet vac that I wanted to clean our sump pump.  My desires have shifted since becoming a husband and a father.  I am so in love with my family that I want things that help me serve and love them better.  

The same is true in my relationship with Christ.  The more I delight in Him, the more my desires mature into His desires.  How small a flat screen TV looks in the presence of the infinite God of creation.  Delight is an irresistible compulsion for the one who has encountered God.  

This is what makes me proud of so many people in our church.  There are days where babies cry and music doesn't come together well.  People who show up hoping for chills during worship lose interest.  Sometimes even I get distracted.  But there are faithful men and women of God who don't care.  They showed up to delight in God.  The video feed could go out.  The speakers could feedback. They wouldn't notice or care.  All they see is God.  They delight regardless of circumstances.  They can do it because they've been doing it all week.  They delight because of who God is.  They just love Him.  

As we enter into a New Year full of anticipation and hopes, I want to delight in God like never before.  His love is deeper than we can fathom.  His grace is more powerful than our most depraved thought.  He delights in us every moment of eternity.  I want to love Him like He loves me.  That's what I want this year to be about.  

My resolution is to delight in God.  How about you?  

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Psalm 146:7-10

Where: My office.
Listening to: Coldplay
Drinking: Starbucks Pike Place
God, I'm facing a lot of tasks.  There is so much to plan, prepare and do these next few days.  So much of it is beyond my abilities and control.  Fill me with Your Spirit today.  I want to be connected to you, so that everything I do brings You glory and blesses everyone around me. 


7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
   and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
 8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
   the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner
   and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
   but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

 10 The LORD reigns forever,
   your God, O Zion, for all generations.

   Praise the LORD. --Psalm 146:7-10

(Ask, Analyze and Apply)

In a culture of abundance and freedom, I have opportunity to blind myself to the cause of the oppressed.  If I let my pride have its way, I would even blame the oppressed for their suffering, citing sin and poor judgement.  That would be a tragedy.  Do gays not suffer oppression?  Doesn't God love them the same way He loves me?  What about predatory lenders, murderers and rapists?  The fact is, these were the guys He made his disciples.  I think its interesting that oppressors always have a reason.  They point out why they are right and the oppressed are wrong.  Its easy to forget that we are all messed up.  The least of this world need God's love as much as the great.  They may even be one and the same.  Our God defends the broken and fights for the cause of the marginalized and imprisoned.  I don't want to ever forget that I was once blind and broken.  He redeemed me and entrusted me to care for the broken (Matthew 25).  Christ-like, unconditional love is the goal.  

Also, when I think about how God frustrates the ways of the wicked, I think of how much falls apart when I'm not operating according to His will.  Sometimes, "the wicked" is me.  

Today, I'm going to check up on our Life Group Leaders to see how caring for the broken is going.  I also have a few oppressed friends that I'm going to remind I love. I think I also need to consider if there is a need God wants me to meet this week, something I have been blind to until now.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Come and Live

Sharing the Heart of Come&Live! from Come&Live! on Vimeo.

Over the summer, a musician friend of mine shared with me about a non-profit record company called Come and Live.  While a lot of record companies are involuntarily becoming non-profit, I found it interesting that someone would choose such a thing.  I was even more amazed to hear that the record organization gives all of the music away.  They see their bands as missionaries and operate like a mission board that blesses hearers with music.

Something about this ministry amazes me, and it isn't merely their vision (though I think their vision is incredible).  What amazes me is that this is a genuinely new idea.  A follower of Christ sought God and allowed his creativity to operate in the power of the Spirit.  The result was a brand new idea.  Come and Live is not a Christian version of a secular organization.  It is not a re-packaged version of something tried before.  It is a brand new idea from Christians.  Praise God!  I was afraid we had forgotten what that looked like.

I have grown so weary of Christian versions of secular ideas.  I nearly vomited when I heard that someone came up with a Christian version of Twitter.  For so long, we have embarrassed ourselves with timid, unimpressive versions of secular ideas that only serve to keep us and the gospel away from the people who need both so desperately.

We were once the leaders of culture.  For centuries, Christians were at the forefront of philosophy, science and the arts.  I'm not sure why we quit creating and started imitating, but I know how things must change.  Come and Live is something brand new.  Let's start making things new again.

Here are a few thoughts on how:

  • Don't try to copy someone else's idea!  If I see another "Christian version of..." I will throw a case of Testa-mints at you.  
  • Allow the Spirit to lead.  Stay connected to Him all the time (Word, worship, prayer, etc.)
  • Vision first.  What has God laid on your heart?  What burdens you?  What are you passionate about?  Decide on a need first (one there is no answer to yet) and then ask God how He wants to use you to make a difference. 
  • Risk. Don't drop the idea because it seems hard or impossible.  If God gave you the vision, He will provide the resources.  Start the process now.  
  • Believe your critics, but don't believe your critics.  Someone will tell you why it won't work.  If they share your vision and want to help, listen to their thoughts.  If they aren't doing anything about your vision, hear them out and keep moving forward.  
  • Change.  Your idea will have to change a lot.  Keep working it.  You may have to cut away things you have worked on for years.  Keep working.  Lose what doesn't work to focus on what does.  
  • Believe God.  I know it sounds simple, but its true.  If God gave you the idea, He will see it through with you.  Keep moving forward.  

What has God burdened you about?  Do you have a brand new idea?  What is your next step to make it reality?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Revelation 5

Where: My living room floor
Coffee: Just finished Twinings Lady Grey Tea
Listening to: Showbread--Who Can Know It? (Available for Free from the Band!)

God, I am parched in spirit and heart.  Fill me with your Spirit.  Speak through your Word, and overflow into the people I meet and the work I do.  Help me to love You, love people and live surrendered.  

 1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” --Revelation 5:1-5 


(Ask, Analyze and Apply)


There are great deeds to be done at the end of all things, and the One who will open the seals to start it all will be Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain.  How amazing that Jesus, who came as a servant and was crucified in our place will be the one calling the shots as Lord of all when the finale starts!  I can't say it better than this.  Read it!

On that great day, the world will wait and weep, thinking none is worthy to break the seals.  But, like a Stone unbroken the Lion of Truth will step to the throne with all authority under his feet.  And, all the saints of God will worship and adore.  We'll sing songs of adoration and worship with all hope as every creature in existence will worships the Roaring Lamb. 


I'm going to sleep in anticipation of what God is going to do as we worship Him tomorrow.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I must confess that I have experienced envy recently.  My friend Micah Hasty has a blog called The Common Cup where he posts a constant array of art, quotes and thoughts for his readers.  While there is plenty to envy (the beautiful design of his blog, his miraculous ability to find and post an array of content daily, etc.), I have found myself most envious of Micah's devotional postings.  Being a gifted photographer, he posts a picture of the coffee he is drinking, the music he is enjoying and the text he is reading, along with thoughts from the study.  As strange as it sounds, I have devotional envy.

I feel alive when I have been alone with a substantive book and a cup of coffee.  There is an aligning of body mind and spirit that occurs when I am at the coffee house reading or planning or studying the Word.  It is a simultaneous filling and pouring out that I cannot explain any other way than to say that it is a Holy Spirit work (In this way, pouring and drinking coffee is a liturgical act of worship).  I'm envious of my friend, because it has been at least a few weeks since I have been in that place.  It's not that I haven't read the Word or been in prayer.  I just haven't had one of those rich moments of time alone with God, the ones where everything else in the world seems simple and insignificant in the presence of God, the ones where He allows His presence to be made known more than usual.

Today, I came to a realization that has been haunting me for the last few weeks: my spirit is dry.  Don't get the wrong idea.  I'm not in sin. and I'm not far from God.  I feel connected.  I just haven't had one of those moments of closeness in while.  They don't come every day, even in the best of times (at least not for me), but I think I'm due for one.  For me, these last few weeks have been full of people in crisis.  I feel like I've been hearing a lot of sad stories about sin, loss, and brokenness.  I'm honored and privileged to have a job that allows me to be there for people in their suffering.  But since the only hope I have to give is from the Spirit, I have to get refilled often.  I haven't been filling up as much as I have been pouring out.

I had a friend tell me once that it must be great to be a pastor and get to study and pray all the time.  I wanted to punch him right there just to prove that his assumption isn't true (otherwise I would have remembered the whole "slow to anger" thing).   I think I have less time for devotions now than ever.  My days are filled with e-mails, meetings, documents, crisis phone calls from hurting people, strange requests from people needing help, missed meals and unexpected tasks, not to mention planning for upcoming projects.  Just when I think I'm getting all my work under control, I realize I've forgotten something huge that should have been dealt with months ago.  So, I scramble to get it back on track and pray God keeps it from falling apart.  Is this familiar?

On my best days, I'm like a hero in a stylized action movie.  Everything is running a mile a minute, and I'm thinking on the spot, making things happen in sync with the Spirit.  Its like I'm shooting from the hip and slaying the enemy at every turn.  Bullets whiz past me as I dodge in Neo-like fashion.  Amazing things happen.  I love it.  But, if I'm not filled up, I'm more like nameless character who steps in the quicksand and is forgotten by Scene 3.

Pastors are just like everybody else.  Time with God doesn't count as part of the work week.  We have to make it fit somewhere.  Right now, I'm making mine at 10:59 on a Saturday night.  I'm getting up early tomorrow, but I need this more than the extra sleep.

So, here I am.  It's quite.  There is no crisis to deal with.  I'm not opening my e-mails.  My family is asleep.  I'm going to re-connect with the Creator of the universe by the light of my computer screen.

I'm writing tonight to let you know that this time doesn't come naturally for anybody (not even pastors).  We really aren't superheroes (though I like to pretend I am John McClane from Die Hard).  So if you are reading this and feeling empty, do whatever it takes to make time today.  Cancel something you thought was important.  Stay up late.  Skip a meal.  Do whatever it takes, but connect.  Nothing of any value will happen until you do.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wimpy Daters

Last night, my wife and I were privileged to serve on a panel discussion about dating.  The event was hosted by Oberlin Christian Fellowship and was held in one of the new Oberlin College dorms.  The worship was wonderful, led by musicians that will one day play at places like Carnegie and Severance Halls (Oberlin is renowned for its conservatory).  Additionally, the questions from the students were thoughtful and honest.

Most of the questions related to choosing a mate and physical guidelines.  Some good dialog was had as many marriage was celebrated and God was honored.

Interestingly, what struck me most about the night was not the discussion itself.  I have served on panels like this before and tend to see the same kind of questions.  I really enjoy it, and it is exciting to talk to students who had the same questions as I did in that stage of life.  However, I continually come across an issue that doesn't get dealt with much.  It came up in a post-panel discussion as a student approached me directly.

She explained that she dearly loved God and wants to be with a godly man going the same direction.  Her problem: Christian guys aren't asking her out.  We just finished a meeting with a packed out room of young men her age that she sees every week on her campus.  None of them have had the gumption to approach her for a date.

There was nothing wrong with this girl.  Very intelligent and attractive, she had a clear plan for her life and a desire for a godly man to walk along sider her, but no one was taking the opportunity.  I've seen the same thing at our young adult ministry.  Plenty of good guys and even more godly women, but no action taken.

This wouldn't e so bad except for how often guys talk to me about their interest in a particular girl.  "You should ask her out," is my response.  I even have a motivational speech about how it's better to get shot down that to never know about what could have happened.  "I'll pray about it" or "I don't know" is a common response from the lovesick pansies.  They seldom do anything about it.

I've decided that I'm tired of these guys "praying about it."  Action needs to be taken.  So, I've created a guideline for single guys:

  • Is she single? 
  • Are you attracted to her?
  • Does she love God?

If the answer to all three is "yes," then ask her out.  Pray about it as you pick up the phone or walk over to her at church.  If God somehow convicts you that this is not in His plan, then back off.  The nervous feeling you get before you ask her out is not God's conviction, it is your fear.  Beat that dog of fear with the rolled up newspaper of adventure.  If you are waiting on a smoke signal from heaven or a floating finger to write her name on the wall, you will be waiting until Jesus comes back.  She won't.

This is part of the problem.  The young woman I spoke with said that she isn't having trouble getting dates.  She's just having trouble getting dates with Christian guys.  Plenty of ungodly young men want to be with her, and she desperately wants a relationship.  She is experiencing increasing levels of temptation, because she doesn't want to miss out on love.

Guys, are you hearing this?!  Godly young who would love to go out with you are dating pagans because you won't man up.  I know; it's still their responsibility to honor God with their relationships.  But what are they supposed to do?  Man up guys.  Be a hero and ask a girl out!

So, ladies (married and unmarried) what do you think about this?  Guys, I've called you out.  Do you have anything to add?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Feed 1,000 Families

We have the potential to feed thousands of people in Lorain County and you can be a part of making that happen!

We have an excellent opportunity to receive a $25,000 grant from Pepsi Refresh to purchase 1,000 gardens for this year's Serve Elyria.

Grant recipients are determined by the amount of online votes, so we need your help to get those votes!  You can vote three different ways every day in the month of December.  We hope you will take just a few minutes each day to help get as many votes as we can. 
You can make a real difference!

The following website,, outlines the easy ways you can vote for the project - online, text message, and Facebook.   

3 Ways to Vote in December - Vote Every Way, Every Day!!
To vote through Pepsi:
To vote through text: Text 104402 to 73774
To vote through Facebook: Pepsi Refresh Voting App